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An interview with Kenya’s new Spin Doctor

Sep 12, 2004 Humour, Sunday Nation

Following on from the appointment of the official Government Spokesman some months ago, the Government this week announced the formation of a new office – that of the Government Spin Doctor. Dr. Abunwasi bin Uwongo was appointed to this important new post yesterday, and he granted the Sunday Nation an exclusive first interview. He explains his role and his interpretation of recent events in this wide-ranging interview.

Q: Dr. Uwongo, can we start with the new post. We are all referring to you as the Government Spin Doctor, but what is your official title?
A: I am the Secretary for Policy Interpretation of Government Actions (PIGA).

Q: Why does Kenya need such an office?
A: Well, it had become obvious that Kenyans simply do not understand what the government is up to these days. The official Government Spokesman was doing his best to explain, but he was saddled with two jobs: that of providing facts and official positions; and that of making generous interpretations of events. He is a decent fellow who was taking unnecessary flak and feeling rather exposed. So we decided to limit him to the basic job of giving facts and figures, whereas I will provide the spin and polish. Also, ministers are finding it increasingly difficult to tell barefaced lies without blushing and sweating, so I was called in to take this duty off them.

Q: And are you qualified for this post?
A: Certainly. I have a doctorate in the Comparative History of Fantasies and Fables from the London School of Truth Economics. I worked with a team that wrote Bill Clinton’s speeches for many years. I have worked with a number of leading advertising agencies in New York.

Q: And what persuaded you to return home? Was it the call of the soil? Or perhaps the need to contribute to the country’s development?
A: No, I did it for the money.

Q: That’s refreshingly honest. Will you retain the same candour for your government pronouncements?
A: Yes, you can trust me absolutely.

Q: Why is spin-doctoring necessary?
A: Well, we have worked out that Kenyans have no interest in the truth. It’s too ugly. Even when the truth is quite blatantly and obviously apparent, they look away from it. They do not act on it. They are far more interested in story telling and fables. And I am just the man to spin tales.

Q: Let’s move then to your position on this government’s record so far. Kenyans are dissatisfied with all the broken promises on jobs, roads, power etc. What do you say in the government’s defence?
A: It’s really very simple. Kenyans need to wise up. When this government said it would ‘create’ half a million jobs, surely no one imagined it would do this itself? It was merely going to facilitate the creation of jobs by providing good government. In fact several million such jobs have been created – my department is preparing the figures. Equally, when we spoke of reforestation – did you think ministers would plant trees? Of course not! Our job is to tell you how fast the forests are disappearing, so that you organise yourselves to buy seedlings and plant trees. When there’s a famine, our job is to provide photo opportunities for you to make donations. This is a modern government of enablers and facilitators.

Q: What about corruption?
A: What about it? Corruption is an inescapable fact of life. You are corrupt, and so, very certainly, am I. Let’s face it – we are world leaders in corruption. Now that our athletics glory days are behind us, it’s the only thing left that we’re good at. Why not flaunt it? Ministers are merely showing the way. And Kenyans don’t have any problem with corruption. When they hear of a scam, the only thing they lament is not being able to benefit from it themselves. We were only pretending to worry about corruption to appease the silly donors. So we have decided to stop faking it. We will soon open a university to teach graft and provide opportunities to all. We will even open an international consultancy office to bring in foreign exchange.

Q: But can you point to any achievements that this government has made?
A: Of course not. Another example of Kenyans’ naivety. Development is a process, not an event. We have provided some inputs to the process. The outputs are down to Kenyans. If nothing is happening, well, what are you people down there doing wrong? Take a hard look at yourselves!

Q: What exactly is it that government does, then?
A: Oh, a great deal. We prevent chaos in the country, for a start. All you tribal chauvinists would undoubtedly slaughter each other with pangas if you didn’t have ministers in large cars to look up to and admire. We give the appearance of order so that people remain civilised. Look around you: Somalia, Sudan, Rwanda – the difference is obvious!

Q: But people worry about insecurity…
A: There is no insecurity in this country. I’ve been here two days, and no one has attacked me. If you drive into forests to make phone calls, then you bring it upon yourself. If you stay in the right areas you’ll be fine. Most violence results from domestic squabbles anyway.

Q: Does government do anything for the poor people of this country?
A: Of course! We give hope! It’s called trickle-down economics. This is how it works: we give tax breaks and incentives at the EPZs. Investors looking for cheap labour and low taxes flock in to set up sweatshops. Your neighbour’s son in Kakamega gets a job there. After some months, he visits home and comes to see you. He tells you stories about his grand life and gives your children some lollipops. They also aspire to go to Nairobi and buy their own lollipops. They become earners and spenders. That’s trickle-down! It’s what keeps the wheels of commerce rolling. It’s all about aspirations.

Q: And will the poor one day become rich via trickle-down?
A: No, no, don’t be ridiculous. There isn’t enough money in Kenya for everyone to be rich! Isn’t that obvious? Most of the poor have a duty to remain poor, otherwise there would be anarchy; only a few can get through at a time. And how would rich people feel rich if everyone had the same cars and houses as them? It’s all about relativity and equilibria.

Q: Any final words?
A: Yes. Kenyans should not think running government is easy. Ministers are addressing complex and fluid situations every day. We are assembling structures and processes for the facilitation of economic development in a proactive and stakeholder-focused manner. All of this requires clear and persistent translation. Don’t listen to journalists and NGO activists. They only agitate because they are not poor enough to be preoccupied by the search for food, and not rich enough to relax. I will be providing all the explanations you need in the months to come. I will be your guide all the way to voting day. It’ll be fun!

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